Rohit Pappu headshot

A new multidisciplinary center focused on biomolecular condensates — distinct molecular communities that make up the building blocks of life — has launched at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis.

The center kicked off with an inaugural symposium Oct. 14, highlighted by the Condensates Colloquium Series. Center director Rohit Pappu, the Gene K. Beare Distinguished Professor of Engineering, said the center is the first of its kind.

Biomolecular condensates are communities made up of DNA, RNA and proteins. As the name implies, the organization arises from physical processes that involve the condensing of the right type of molecules at the right locations. This condensation reaction separates the key molecules into distinct condensates through a process known as phase separation.

The dysregulation of condensates through aberrant phase separation underlies diseases such as cancers and degenerative illnesses such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases. Pappu has led cutting-edge research into condensates, and he said advancing such work is crucial to future medical breakthroughs.

“A key mission of the Center for Biomolecular Condensates is to develop technologies, uncover the relevant physical principles and apply these to study and understand how condensates function in live cells,” Pappu said. “This is one of the more important topics in cell biology today and one that is attracting attention across disciplines.”

Aaron Bobick, the James M. McKelvey Professor and dean of the McKelvey School of Engineering, welcomed the center’s launch.

“Cells are the mechanism and model (units) by which biology achieves a lot of its life science construction,” he said. “The question becomes what is the machinery that cells leverage? I think today is that day where that focus is achieved.”

Center members include engineering faculty as well as some from Arts & Sciences, the School of Medicine and partner institutions in St. Louis.

Read more on the engineering website.

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